Vacation at Home

Instead of a “va-cation,” how about “stay-cation,”a word for staying home and appreciating what we have here. One of our treasured places has been bringing the natural world to San Francisco from all over the globe since 1853. Seven men founded the first scientific academy west of the Atlantic Ocean. By 1923, the complex included the Steinhart Aquarium, full of exotic sea life. And in 1952, the Morrison Planetarium was added to gaze at the stars. This and more is still delighting visitors at the California Academy of Sciences.

Just beyond the entrance doors to the old Steinhart Aquarium building, our first stop was usually “The Swamp.” In 1963, American alligators and alligator snapping turtles were added to this pond surrounded by a brass railing with posts made in the shape of sea horses. In 1969, Cowell Hall enclosed the front courtyard and connected the African Hall and the North American Hall.

In the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the Academy sustained damage and discussions started on how to fix the problems. The result was a design for a new complex. The Academy moved some exhibits to downtown San Francisco and the old complex, pictured above, was demolished in 2005.

In 2008, the new Academy opened housing the Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium, and the Kimball Natural History Museum. The Swamp was redesigned and can be viewed from two stories. But City kids are happy that the familiar sea horse railing has been used in the new design.

Today, the famous alligator in The Swamp is Claude, an unusual albino alligator. Take a look:

Claude was born in Florida on Sept. 15, 1995. His caregivers explain that it is doubtful that Claude would survive in the wild because of his lack ability to blend in with his surroundings. Instead, he gets star treatment in The Swamp, including the use of his favorite rock. Claude’s rock is really a heater that is kept between 78 and 95 degrees for nap time.

There is much more to see at the Academy. Here is a brief tour of the California Academy of Sciences as it looks today:

For information on the current programs, check out:

Best wishes,